Magic Weekend Full Preview

This weekend will see the fourth Magic Weekend, the second time the event will be hosted in the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh. 

Every round 13 Super League game will be played at Murrayfield Stadium. It gives the fans a unique opportunity to watch every single game in the same round of matches in the flesh, but how does this years event wet the appetite compared to previous years in Edinburgh and Cardiff?

When the draw for this year’s Magic Weekend was made during the close season, there were very few games that would catch the imagination of the neutral fans on paper. As the trip to Edinburgh is less than a week away, a quick glance at both the weekend’s fixtures and the current league table shows that the next seven games may not be as predictable as many people suggested at the start of the season. 

If certain results go in favour of a particular team, there could be several changes to the league table on bank holiday Monday. Super League may have a new league leader, a new top four and a reshuffle of the eight play off places. It all makes for an exciting weekend of rugby league in Scotland.

There are fans who would have preferred to see the return of the derby matches that proved to be a unique selling point for the original Millennium Magic weekend back in 2007. These fans will no doubt argue there is more at stake than just the two competition points, and that more fans are compelled to travel the greater distance to support their team against a local foe. But close proximity between two clubs geographically does not always provide a classic rugby match. It is often the case when two teams close to each other in the league table provide a much more thrilling contest, and a fantastic advert for the game on both live television and on ‘foreign’ ground away from the M62 corridor. 

Every club has something to play for at this stage of the season, and so there is every chance that each game can be a thrilling encounter as we look ahead to this years Magic Weekend.

Bradford Bulls V Crusaders RL – Saturday May 1, 1pm

After their demolition of Hull KR at home, Bradford go into this game full of confidence against a 11th place Crusaders. The appointment of Steve McNamara as the new England coach obviously blew the wind in the Bradford sails as they were able to score six tries past a tough Hull KR side last weekend. They have no new injury concerns ahead of travelling to Edinburgh which is good news for McNamara’s side, although Nick Scruton is facing charges in front of the RFL’s disciplinary panel for a high tackle in Sunday’s win over Hull KR. They face the Crusaders, who secured their first ever Super League win against the Bulls last season at the Grattan Stadium. 

Crusaders will be boosted ahead of this game by the presence of Gareth Thomas for the entire 80 minutes last weekend, as well as the expected debut appearance of Jarrod Summut. But Brian Noble will be expecting his side to begin the game better on Saturday, which would be in stark contrast compared to what they did against Huddersfield at home last weekend. Crusaders also have no more injury worries as they look to avenge their 20-16 loss earlier on in the season against Bradford on Easter Monday. 

Hull FC V Harlequins RL – Saturday May 1, 3pm

Harlequins will be travelling to Edinburgh after competing one of the biggest upsets of the season so far. Despite being down 24-6 at half time away to Wigan, the London-based team went 40 minutes without conceding a try to win the game 38-26. Before the game it was bottom verses top of the league, and Quins were able to win the game proving that there are no guaranteed victories in Super League. This could well be a lesson that Hull FC should learn before taking on the Quins in the second game of the weekend at Murrayfield. However despite the win, Quins are to be without Ben Jones-Bishop for six weeks with a fractured skull.  

Hull FC are still missing Sean Long and Craig Fitzgibbon who are just two of their key players out through injury, but Kirk Yeaman is expected to make his return after missing his sides 12-8 victory over Wakefield with a leg injury. Hull are just one point behind Bradford in the league table, and should the Bulls lose against Crusaders Richard Agar’s men will be expected to make the jump from sixth to fifth with the same number of wins as top four side Huddersfield.

Salford City Reds V Warrington Wolves – Saturday May 1, 5pm

When these two teams met on Good Friday, it was Salford that had all the reason to feel confident at half time despite being behind at the break. And despite the one sided score line of 32-2, the result didn’t reflect the hard work Salford put in to prevent Warrington from scoring more than two tries in the first half. They also kept Wigan to a low score line, only losing 18-4 at home to the current league leaders. Shaun McRae will want his side to repeat three of their last four performances, forgetting what will hopefully be a blip against Castleford last weekend.

Warrington welcomed back Lee Briers to full fitness against Catalan on Sunday, after missing several games through injury since his sides home loss to Wigan in round three. Warrington have met Salford during the Magic Weekend once before in 2007, in which the Wolves thrashed the Reds 50-18 at the Millennium Stadium. Tony Smith does have one injury concern after Ben Harrison was taken off within the first five minutes against Catalan and failed to return. Gareth Carvell is still on the sidelines after picking up an injury two weeks ago against Hull KR. 

Leeds Rhinos V Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – Saturday May 1, 7pm

Leeds are expected to bounce back from their disappointing loss to last years fellow grand finalists on Saturday, which will conclude the first day of this years Magic Weekend. Leeds were heavily defeated against St Helens 41-20 at the GPW Recruitment Stadium. But they will face the tough task of beating Wakefield, who happen to be tucked neatly inside the top eight one point above Leeds who are currently in ninth place. When the two teams last met in round two, it was Wakefield who came away victorious with a 28-18 win at the Hearwell Stadium. 

Leeds will want to avenge that loss, and potentially move up two places in the league up to seventh. Wakefield narrowly lost to Hull FC on Friday in a very stop, start game that saw 20 scrums and 20 penalties. Wakefield coach John Kear will want to make sure his side improve on their ball retention, or else he could see his side take a battering against the champions. Leeds are expected to bring back Ali Lauitiiti from injury, subject to the second rower passing a fitness test before the game.

Castleford Tigers V Catalans Dragons – Sunday May 2, 2pm

Despite winning 30-12 against Salford last weekend, Castleford will be happy to have an extra game away from home, as their form at the Jungle is a dire one. They have only won two of their seven home games this season, including a Challenge Cup loss to Barrow the weekend before last. Things weren’t much better last year, as Terry Matterson’s team only chalked up four home wins during last season’s league campaign. On the other hand Kevin Walters will want an all round improvement as his side were comfortably beaten at the weekend away to Warrington 40-6. 

Castleford have no more injury concerns after their win against Salford, although Catalan’s Cyrille Gossard will miss the trip to Edinburgh after sustaining a sprained ankle during the Dragon’s loss at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. The Dragons did receive some good news as Jean Philippe-Baile will not be charged with fighting against Warrington’s Chris Riley by the RFL disciplinary panel, and is free for Sunday’s game. 

Huddersfield Giants V Wigan Warriors – Sunday May 2, 4pm

Huddersfield have been dealt the news that fullback Brett Hodgson will be out for at least a month after picking up a thigh strain. The Giants captain rejected a 12 month contract extension and is rumoured to be signing for Warrington in time for 2011. However, Nathan Brown was given good news as Shaun Lunt will be back a lot sooner than expected. Lunt has an Achilles injury, and should be back on the pitch in two or three weeks. Brad Drew’s return from injury is also imminent, and should give the Giants a boost ahead of their game against third place St Helens who are just above Huddersfield in the league.

In what is arguably the game of the round, Wigan will be looking to put their 38-26 loss at home to Harlequins behind them. Wigan have lost only twice in 2010, and on both occasions they threw away a healthy half time lead. Wigan’s injury concerns are minimal, with Martin Gleeson expected to return after suffering a calf injury in the week leading up to the Quins game. Thomas Leuluai will be out of action for a further two weeks while Harrison Hansen will be out until June at the earliest. 

Hull KR V St Helens – Sunday May 2, 6pm

In the final game of the Magic Weekend both teams go into this game in opposite for to each other, with one team conceding 40 points last weekend, the other scoring over 40. After a disappointing loss to Bradford, Hull KR will be hoping to close the gap between them and the top six, which includes overtaking their city rivals. Justin Morgan will want to see an improved disciplined performance after conceding 14 penalties against Bradford on Sunday. 

St Helens will be flying high after a comfortable win over the champions, which included a team of lesser known young players proving that Saints have huge strength in depth. James Foster made his debut for the Saints on the wing, and despite the presence of Kyle Eastmond, was able to convert eight goals from eight attempts.  Saints were able to rely on youngsters Andrew Dixon, Gary Wheeler and Matty Ashurst, who stepped up to arguably their biggest challenge in their careers and succeeded proving the production line is still open for business at St Helens.

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